Saturday, April 6, 2013

Movie Review: The Muppet Christmas Carol

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: A version of a Christmas classic that will entertain the entire family.
Cons: The weird DVD releases
The Bottom Line:
Dickens comedy
Gets the story right but adds
Lots of great humor

The Muppets Take Dickens.  Will Literature Ever be the Same?

I love Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. I have watched it, listened to it, and read it enough I have parts of it memorized. But I don't always feel like taking the story completely straight. When that's the case, I dig out The Muppet Christmas Carol, and enjoy a lighter take on the Christmas classic.

Charles Dickens (Gonzo) himself narrates the story. It's Christmas Eve and Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) is busy evicting the people who have defaulted on their mortgages. Only because he feels he must, he allows Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog) and the rest of the book keeping staff to have the next day off.

But that night, he is visited by his dead partners, Robert and Jacob Marley (Statler and Waldorf, you know, the old men from the balcony). Between heckling him, they tell him that he needs to change his ways, and to help him with that, he will be visited by three more spirits. Will these visits be enough to change him?

This movie walks a very fine line. Yes, it plays the story mostly straight. The heart of the original story comes through loud and clear, and the finale is just as emotional as any other version I have seen. Heck, I still choke up at the scene with the Cratchits set in the future. And we get plenty of lines from the actual book thanks to Gonzo's narration.

Yet the movie is loads of fun. The jokes only slow down during the powerful emotional scenes. Which means we get plenty of laughs. Many of these come from Gonzo as Dickens and Rizzo as his doubting side kick. They are hilarious. The other characters get some good jokes as well, and this helps set the movie apart from every other version.

Never having seen the Muppet Show, I can't say for certain, but I do believe that every major Muppet character gets a cameo. Some are rather brief, like the Swedish chef. Obviously, Kermit plays a major role, as does Miss Piggy, who takes the role of Bob Cratchit's wife. And you've got to laugh at Fozzie Bear as Fozziewig (instead of Fezziwig).

Another added bonus is the songs. The movie boasts a plethora of original songs that greatly add to the story. In fact, I am thrilled to say I finally got the soundtrack this year. I especially enjoy "One More Sleep Till Christmas," which Bob Cratchit sings on his way home from work and "It Feels Like Christmas" which the Ghost of Christmas Present sings.

What makes this movie work is the right level of acting. Michael Caine plays it absolutely straight. There is never a waiver in his Scrooge until the end when he has reformed. And all the Muppets are wonderful in their various roles. The humans (and there are plenty of them) treat the Muppets as if they are real, which creates the illusion that this world is real. It allows us to get caught up in the story.

And if you are worried about the little ones, don't. There are a couple scenes that might frighten them, but they are mild compared to other versions. In fact, the jokes do much to take the fright factor out of the film. So if you are looking for a way to introduce your kids to the story, this would be the way to do it.

The only weird thing about this movie is the DVD releases. The movie first hit DVD in 2002. It was intact, but the movie was in full screen. Fans cried foul. So in 2005, the movie was rereleased as a special edition. This time, it includes both full frame and wide screen. Perfect, right? Wrong! The wide screen version bills itself as the "theatrical edition" while the full frame version is the "extended version." What's the different? 3 minutes. And best I can tell, those three minutes revolve around the song "The Love is Gone." This is the song that Belle sings as she is breaking up with Scrooge in the past. The song is missing from the wide screen version. Now, I'll freely admit that it's always been my least favorite song in the movie. But I tried to watch the wide screen version, and I couldn't. Without the song, the scene is way to short and loses much of the emotional punch it needs. Since I never saw the movie in the theater, I don't know if it was added later or not. All I know is it has been part of every version I have seen, including the 2002 DVD release. Why Disney would do it this way is beyond me.

The disappointing DVD release aside, this is a fun Christmas movie. So roast the chestnuts, grab the egg nog, and sit back to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol.

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